Seattle Water Utility No Longer Opening Tenant Accounts

By E-Renter Tenant Screening
Posted on July 12, 2011 under Rents and Deposits | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

dollar-sign1In Seattle, Wash, the Public Utilities Service, which provides residential water, sewer and garbage service, is putting an end to tenant accounts. Starting July 15, all water bills will go to the owner of the property.

Other utilities in Seattle, such as electricity, gas, cable and internet, are all available directly to tenants, paid by tenants in their own accounts. So why the change in the water/sewer/garbage service?

The Seattle Public Utility (SPU) says that owners were ultimately responsible for water, sewer and garbage debt incurred by their tenants anyway, and they believe that financial management of tenant accounts “should lie with the owners.”

The SPU also stated that the cost of maintaining approximately 20,000 tenant accounts should be shifted from the rest of the account holders to the landlords.

As tenants close accounts when they move to another residence or out of the area, the SPU will automatically activate a new account for the owner of the property. The account will remain in the owner’s name from then on.

This change brings up potential problems for landlords, and maybe for tenants, too:

  • Will tenants waste water, knowing they won’t be receiving a bill?
  • How will landlords charge tenants for water, sewer and garbage, since the bill will fluctuate depending on use?
  • What about tenants who qualify for utility discounts or assistance?
  • How can a landlord determine how to set the rent at a rate that will cover the water bill?
  • And what about the tenant whose landlord stops paying the water bill?

The SPU indicates that there is no “hard evidence” that tenants will waste water if they don’t get a bill. But in reality, people tend to use an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to most things in life—utility bills included. The biggest detriment to using too much electricity, water and telephone minutes is receiving an unusually high bill. Who doesn’t remember their mom or dad shutting off all the lights the day after the electric bill arrived?

It looks as if landlords in Seattle have one more headache to deal with.

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